Non-Residents Can Hunt Elk in Montana

Despite the fact that the elk harvest in Montana ranks third only behind Colorado and Wyoming, I have not thought much about hunting elk in Montana since non-residents had to apply for the General Elk tags back in 2011.

montana elk distribution public land map

Map 1. Montana elk distribution on public land shown in blue. (Click for larger map)

But I have learned getting a general non-resident tag may not be that difficult.

There are 17,000 elk or elk/deer combination licenses available for non-residents, and they did not sell out until 2017.

That means since 2011, not enough hunters applied by the March 15 deadline so everyone that applied for a non-resident combination elk license got one. Even if you didn’t apply, you could still get a tag if you were among the first to buy them when they went on sale as surplus licenses in May. In 2016, 2,200 tags were sold as surplus licenses.

We should have predicted that more non-resident hunters would apply for elk and elk/deer combination tags in 2017, so 17,000 non-resident hunters got tags, but only about 500 did not. Those are still very good odds to get an elk tag in Montana for 2019.

Why Not Hunt Elk In Montana?

Montana has averaged over 24,000 elk harvested over the last five years (2012 – 2016; 2017 data is now not yet available) and has increased from about 20,000 elk in 2012 and 2013 to over 30,000 elk in 2015, before dropping back to 24,532 in 2016.

New hunting regulation brochures are usually ready by mid February each year.

*** plan on updating soon to add newest data***

Table 1 Montana Elk Harvest 2012 – 2016

Year Bull Elk Cow Elk Total Harvest Hunters Success Days per Harvest
2012 10,452 9,098 20,550 102,861 20.0% 43.2
2013 10,446 9,708 20,154 107,568 18.7% 45.7
2014 13,142 12,594 25,735 107,663 23.9% 36.7
2015 13,703 15,732 30,924 113,959 27.1% 33.9
2016 11,089 13,443 24,532 113,577 21.6% 43.5
AVG 11,936 11,755 24,379 109,126 22.3% 39.9

Compare Montana Harvest to other Western States

Montana, like most other western states are great for DIY elk hunting because it has 35 million acres of public land plus an additional 8 million acres of private land made available through the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (WFWP) Block Management Program.

Map 1 Montana Elk Distribution on Public Land

I took the most recent (2016) elk distribution map published by MFWP and overlaid it with a map of public land to produce Map 1 above.

Areas where elk can be found on public land are colored blue.

I also included the regional boundaries and the hunting districts (HDs – aka units) to show their approximate locations.

Click on Map 1 to see a larger version.

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Map 2 Montana Elk Population Objective by Hunt District

montana elk population objective map

Map 2. Montana Elk Population Objective. (Click for larger Map)

Population objectives are the numbers of elk that wildlife biologists want on any given HD or group of HDs.

Map 2 shows Montana’s 2015 population objectives and are color coded as follows (and according to the legend on the map).

  • Red HDs (or group of HDs) are managed to have between 2,001 and 8,000 elk.
  • Orange HDs should have between 1,001 and 2,000 elk.
  • Yellow HDs between 501 and 1,000 elk.
  • Green HDs between 201 and 500 elk.
  • Blue HDs between 0 and 200 elk.
  • There are no objectives for the white areas, Indian Reservations or National Parks.

Also notice that HDs (must see on the large map) with plus marks “+” were 20% above the objective in spring of 2016 and HDs with minus marks “-” were 20% below objective. HDs with no marks were within (+/-20%) to their objective populations.

Montana Elk Hunt Region 1

For specific examples, I will pick two HDs (or groups of HDs) from each region and also put the data into Table 2.

Notice on Map 2 that HDs 100 (Purcell) and 104 (Lower Clark Fork) in Region 1 are both colored green (objective is between 201 – 500 elk) and are both below objective.

The elk objectives for HD 100 is 300 elk and 225 elk for HD 104, but actual estimates of the elk population (after the 2015 hunt in 2016) was 173 and 160 elk respectively, so these units are below objective. In 2015, 75 elk were harvested from HD 100 and 73 elk from HD 104.

Table 2. Selected Montana Elk Hunt Districts

HD Population 2015 Hunter 2016 Obj.
(Unit) Objective Elk Harvest Success Pop. Est. Status
100 300 75 4.8% 173 42.3% Below
104 225 73 5.9% 160 28.9% Below
213 750 199 22.0% 645 14.0% Below
270 3,800 437 15.8% 5,023 32.2% Above
314 3,000 407 30.5% 4,410 47.0% Above
322,323,324+ 8,000 2,921 31.0% 10,841 35.5% Above
410 2,300* 776 35.3% 4,359 89.5% Above
413 500 172 15.6% 548 +9.6% At
520 1,050 256 21.8% 1,695 61.4% Above
575 225 160 19.4% 1,240 451% Above
620,621,622 1,650* 570 29.3% 3,586 117% Above
630,631,632 350* 117 23.8% 669 91.1% Above
700, 701 300* 497 27.8% 1,964 555% Above
702, 704, 705 500 461 21.8% 2,562 114% Above
*Upper limit of objective – stated as range not exact number

Montana Elk Hunt Region 2

HD 213 (Flint Creek) is coded yellow (501 – 1000 elk) and HD 270 (Sapphire) is red (2,001 – 8,000 elk), but the actual objectives were 750 and 3,800 elk respectively. The population estimate for HD 213 was 645 elk and the estimate for HD 270 was 5,023 elk, so HD 213 is below objective and HD 270 is above objective. In 2015, 199 and 437 elk were harvested from HDs 213 and 270.

Montana Elk Hunt Region 3

HD 314 (Northern Yellowstone) and the group of HDS that includes 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327 & 330 (Gravelly) are coded red, so their objectives are in the range of between 2,001 and 8,000 elk. Actual objectives were 3,000 and 8,000 elk respectively. The population estimates were 4,410 and 10,841, so both areas are above their objectives. Elk harvest in 2015 was 407 and 2,921 elk.

Montana Elk Hunt Region 4

HD 410 (Missouri River Breaks) is also coded red with an objective stated as between 2,000 – 2,300 elk and HD 413 (Little Belt) is coded green (201 – 500 elk) with an objective of 500 elk. The population estimate for HD 410 was 4,359 elk and the estimate for HD 413 was 548 elk, so HD 410 is above estimate and HD 413 is considered to be “At” the population objective. This was after a 2015 harvest of 776 elk in HD 410 and 172 elk in HD 413.

Montana Elk Hunt Region 5

In Region 5, HD 520 (Absaroka) is orange (1001 – 2000 elk) and HD 575 (Mid-Yellowstone) is green (201 – 500 elk). The actual objectives are 1,050 and 225 respectively and population estimates are 1,695 and 1,240 elk, so both units are above objected. HD 520 had 256 elk taken in the 2015 hunt season and 160 elk were harvested in HD 575.

Montana Elk Hunt Region 6

In Region 6, the two blocks of HDs (620,621 & 622) and (630,631 & 632) (both Missouri River Breaks) are coded orange (1001 – 2000 elk) and green (201 – 500 elk). The actual objective for the 620, 621 & 622 block is 1,400 – 1,650 while the 630,631 & 632 block is 300 – 350. Population estimates were 3,586 and 669 elk respectively, so both blocks of districts are above objective. In 2015, 570 and 117 elk were harvested from these blocks of units.

Montana Elk Hunt Region 7

The two blocks of HDs (700 & 701 – Missouri River Breaks) and (702, 704 & 705 – Custer Forest) are coded green and both blocks are above objective. The objective of 700/701 is 200-300 elk and the objective for 702/704/705 is 500 elk. Actual population estimates for 700/701 in 2016 was 1,964 after a harvest of 497 elk.

The block of HDs (702/704/705) was surveyed last in 2013 when the population estimate was 1,503 elk. In 2015, 461 elk were harvested from those three HDs combined.

Also be aware that units with no elk objective may have elk. For example, 86 elk were harvested in HD 101 in 2015, 24 elk were harvested in HD 280, 326 elk were harvested in HD 321, 47 elk were harvested in HD 404, 6 elk were harvested each in HD 600, 640 and 670 and 14 elk were harvested in HD 703. Without taking the time to dig further, I’m guessing most of these were harvested by locals with local knowledge, but not the best options for non-residents looking for a DIY elk hunt.

These are the Best of the Best Binoculars

Consider a DIY Elk Hunt in Montana

After looking at Maps 1 and 2, you should have a good idea of where the elk and the public land are in Montana. No wonder half of all elk harvested in Montana are from Region 3. As a DIY public land hunter, you need to know where the public land is, but you don’t necessarily have to hunt districts with the highest elk density (and usually the highest hunter density).

Map 3 Ecoregions of Montana.

montana ecoregions map

Map 3. Ecoregions of Montana. (Click for larger Map)

In order to really understand where the elk habitats are and to help decide what type of terrain to hunt, Montana is made up of seven ecoregions (Map 8). Four or the ecoregions are forested mountain types, two are Great Plains prairie types and a very small section of the Wyoming Basin is a sagebrush desert.

While the two largest plains sections make up over 65% of the state, most of the elk are in the western mountains.

Most of the public land is in the western mountains and most land in the plains regions are private ranches and farms.

The remainder of the state consists of the Middle, Northern, and Canadian Rockies and combined with a small section of the Idaho Batholith ecoregion, make up just over a third of the state.

Elk are primarily found in the mountains, including small isolated ranges that or found in the middle of the Great Plains regions. These ranges are also classified as Middle Rockies. Elk are also moving down the large rivers (especially the Missouri, Yellowstone and Bighorn Rivers) through the plains ecoregions and elk populations have increased in these areas.

Characteristics of Rocky Mountain Ecoregions in Montana

The Canadian Rockies are generally higher and more ice-covered than the Northern Rockies with extensive treeless alpine habitats at high elevation. Most of the Canadian Rockies ecoregion is included in Glacier National Park.

The Northern Rockies ecoregion is also made up of rugged, high elevation mountains, but is lower and less ice-covered than the Canadian Rockies. It differs from the Middle Rockies by the dominate tree vegetation.

Western white pine, western red cedar, and grand fir habitats are common in the Northern Rockies while lodgepole pine habitats are more common in the Middle Rockies.

Logging and mining are more common in the Northern Rockies and grazing is more common in the Middle Rockies.

I hope this information has bee helpful for any non-resident that has considered hunting big game in Montana.

Look for my next post where I will rank the best general elk hunt units by the number of elk harvested and by hunter success.


  1. Bill Hodges says

    Very informative article for a beginning DIY er like myself. Would love to figure out how, when, where, for moderately challenging any elk hunts.

    • Sorry for the slow response Bill, been trying to put an elk in my freezer.
      Yes, those are the questions to be asking. But if you are a DIYer (especially on public land), those are things you have to figure out or yourself.
      My DIY Elk Hunting guide will help you find the information you need to decide where to hunt, but you will have to learn the regs and make the final decision about where you want to hunt.

      My book will also give you some insight about how to prepare for the hunt and where and how to find elk, but if you live close to elk country, you will have to do your own scouting. If not close, you will have to start the process by looking at topo maps and Google Earth. Obviously, it is best to know and area well before hunting it, but if you get out there, you have a chance of running into elk.

      What does moderately challenging mean to you? What is the most important thing you want to get out of a DIY elk hunt? A trophy on the wall? Meat in the freezer? Or an awesome experience in awesome country with your favorite people?

      A successful DIY elk hunt will depend on preparation, effort and luck.

      This season, I hunted three different seasons for a total of 21 days and saw elk 9 times (7 times less than 250 yards, 4 times less than 100 yards). On most days, I hiked at least 5 miles and climbed and dropped at least 1,000 feet. But I am over 60 now and don’t have the best knees.

      Anyway, it looks like my article sparked something. Do your research, pick a spot, get a tag and go for it next season.
      Let me know how you do.

  2. How/where do you apply for a tag?

  3. Dan Lawrence says

    I am a Michigan native and have done guided and DIY out in western Montana, and giving it another go this Sept. While doing some research and trying to find the unit/units that will best stack mine and my buddies odds (if we decide to change units or states this is) I came across your article. I found it very informative and helpful and will be reading more of your articles in the next couple days. You had a reply from Nov 12, 2017 about your encounters, what state were you hunting?

  4. Just purchased the Big Game Combo for the 2018 season, from all the research (phone calls etc…) the general license allows you to hunt anywhere in Montana so long as the HD you want to hunt allows it, correct? Also the HD we want to hunt states that a brow-tined bull or anterless elk may be taken. By Montana definition the anterless elk can be a female or juvenile male. So why are the success rates so low? Since I just spent $1000 on a tag, I plan on coming back with something… Any thoughts on this??

    • Hi Kyle: Yes, I actually have quite a few thoughts on this.
      What do you think success should be for a General Elk hunt that allows any elk except spikes to be taken?

      I think the combined success rates reported in Montana are higher than some other states. I say combined because it’s hard to get true General Elk hunt stats from Montana. Some other states report general harvests separately or in such a way as the general harvest data can be teased out of the total data. Montana does not make that possible, since all harvest statistics are lumped together. Data from general tags, B Licenses and Elk Permits that have to be drawn are all lumped together.

      If it makes you feel any better, I also have a hard time getting specific questions answered from Montana FWP. You would think they realize they are competing for non-res dollars, but they obviously don’t care. Play by their rules or don’t play. I think getting specific information from the state wildlife agency websites and reg books is the single hardest thing about DIY elk hunting.

      So here you are with a $1000 tag and I understand the need to come home with something. Have you hunted elk before? Have you hunted any HD in Montana before?

      There are many reasons elk hunts on public land have low success, but 20% success seems to be about the norm for General Elk hunts.

      From the latest Montana harvest report, if you rank the top units (units with at least 20 elk harvested) by harvest success, they go from almost 38% success to just under 28%. As I said before, that is good.
      So if we look at the 20th ranked unit (HD 329), what does a 28% success mean? Obviously 28 out of 100 or one hunter out of every 3.7 harvests an elk. That is actually very good.
      Also look at hunting effort. 2,051 hunters spent 13,204 days in the field to harvest 548 elk or in other words it took 24.1 days to harvest each elk on average (43.5 days per elk 2016 state total).

      Obviously everyone’s hunt effort is not the same. The hunter that hiked 10 miles per day and the guy that played pocket pool at camp most of the day each count as a hunt day.

      In states with short seasons, that explains why the average elk hunter harvests an elk every 4 or 5 years. But Montana’s season is long. As a non-res, you probably can’t spend that much time and that also explains why success can be low.

      I’m just going to say up front, IMHO most elk hunters don’t put in much effort and should expect to find elk. Yes, they might drive around all day, but they are driving past elk they will never see. The main reason they say 20% of the hunters harvest 80% of the elk.

      I understand the desire to find elk first, then to get after them, but if that method worked consistently, more people would harvest elk.

      Most elk hunters never get more than a quarter mile from a road. That is 440 yards. So more elk hunters are willing to take a shot farther than they are willing to hike away from a road.

      Granted every step away from a road equals pain when you have an elk down, but hard work does not mean impossible. My wife and I do it and I may be fooling myself, but I still think I could pack an elk by myself a mile back to the truck if the terrain is not too steep.

      I say you have a better chance if you park the truck and walk away. Walk into the wind and across the wind and cover as much ground as you can. When you have chances, take breaks and scan everything in sight, but always be hunting. You will be surprised how lucky you can get even if you can’t walk far.

      But even if you don’t harvest an elk… Will you be coming home with nothing? Impossible. If nothing else, you will have gained useful knowledge for next year. Just having the experience should be worth the price of a tag.

      Good luck on your hunt and let me know where you end up and how it goes.

  5. Hi
    I,m coming out to hunt Elk and deer DIY this year. I hunted deer with a guide last year and I was stupefied by how many deer I saw. I’m used to hunting only public land in the Adirondacks and Maine and Vermont. So I quickly realized I didn’t need a hunting guide for deer.

    What I don’t understand are people who think that 20% is poor odds for taking an Elk!! Vermont, N.Y. and Maine hover around 7-10% for buck kill success!!

    Me thinks some people are trying to transition from tree stand hunting on private land to mountain hunting on public land.

    I’m looking at hunting units 446 and 391. Do you think if I put in the boot wear and tear in those units that I’ll at least see some elk?

    That is my goal for the days I have set aside for focusing on elk. Just to see some elk on public land.
    Thanks for the good articles.

    • Yes, 20% for a nice bull elk is not bad. 20% chance for any elk or cow elk is not good. But lots of people hunt without really putting much effort into it. I don’t really know how many, but many folks seem to drive around looking for an easy shot. It is obviously successful for some, but not many or not often.

      Can’t say that I can blame many folks because packing an elk out in rough country is a real job, especially if you don’t have horses or lots of help.
      Hiking into rough country to look for elk can be a real job if the terrain is steep and/or at high elevation.

      I have packed elk out by myself and with just the help of my wife, so I know it can be done (we packed 240+ lbs of meat and some bone from cow elk ½ mile to truck in 6 hours; relatively flat, downhill to truck) (read pack out weight of elk).

      I may be fooling myself but I still think I can pack an elk out by myself (not all in one trip) at least a mile from the truck.

      As for seeing elk, of course you should see elk if you get off the roads.

      Last year, I hunted 21 days and saw elk 9 times at 7 different locations during my hunting seasons (saw mule deer everyday and bucks most days). Elk are on most public lands (especially National Forest Lands) in all seven of the Western States with General Elk tags.

      In 2016 (latest harvest numbers), Montana Unit 446 harvested total 513 elk by 2,183 hunters and unit 391 had 273 elk by harvested by 973 hunters.
      Elk are there. Go get one (or a nice buck).

  6. I plan to come ready to hunt hard.

    When does Montana release the elk harvest numbers? They’ve updated the deer numbers on the site but not elk. Looking to see how 2017 was.

    Also how was the winter? Good survival numbers for deer and elk?

    • It is about time for Montana Fish and Wildlife to release the 2017 harvest data.
      Last Winter was tough in Montana, but probably harder on deer and antelope than elk. The Elk numbers around Yellowstone are at highest levels since 2005.
      More tags will be issued this year if that is an indication.

  7. thanks!

  8. Thank you for your time and dedication, I enjoyed the reads. I am a resident and have had great hunting for deer but this will be my 1st elk hunt. I am a disabled veteran with hunting placards and recently moved from hunt unit 240 to 214.

    I want to try for elk but do not know anyone in this area. As you may know, I need a hunter to come with me by law and due to disability.

    I’m wondering if you know where I could look to find a hunting partner, and where would be good for hunting from a vehicle as I have the placards for it. Thank you for your time.

    • Hi John. I get a few questions from time to time about finding a hunting or fishing buddy. I usually send them here but never hear back so I don’t know how the buddy finder site works.
      I assume you have already contacted Montana FPW but also try reaching out to people at a wildlife forum like Rockslide for information about hunting in unit 214.
      I also suggest you reach out to Veterans Groups including the American Legion.
      Good luck on your hunt and Thank You for your service to our country.

  9. Thanks, I will be contacting the America Legion chapter in my town and or VFW.

  10. David Drewniak says

    Thank you for all of this very useful information!! Out of curiosity, where do you get your data from?

    • I assume you mean data for other posts in addition to this one.

      The elk harvest data and hunter effort data (if provided) comes from each state’s wildlife agency, but some data has to be added or subtracted to answer specific questions.

      I also get data for unit size (acres), amount of public land (or proportion of public land) in each unit, amount of National Forest lands (USFS) in each unit from various federal and state sources.

      Other data has to be calculated from published data. Example: Days per harvest (as shown in this post) is derived from simply dividing the total hunter-days (hunting effort) by the total number of elk harvested to get the total number of hunter effort per each harvested elk.

  11. Hi Silly question is there any DIY hunt oppertunities availble for non resident aliens ( canadian citizens ) or is outfitter my only option ?

    • Wyoming requires that non-residents (and that would include Canadians) have to have a guide to hunt in designated Wilderness Areas.

      That does not include any other public lands. Montana has no such limitation (unless something new has come up that I am not aware).
      All you need is a hunting license and you can DIY hunt on public lands.

  12. Hi,

    The combined license success rate for non residents is not accurate. If you apply in a zone with limited elk permits you will draw deer only, not elk and get your money back for the elk portion. Maybe i misread, but it is very difficult for a non res to draw and elk permit anywhere.

    • Thanks Mike. The harvest report data comes from Montana FWP. No doubt some of the state harvest reports are purposely cryptic. From what I understand, for several years (2013 – 2014?) so few out of state hunters were applied for Montana elk tags, everyone was successful. It was my understanding they got elk or combo tags, not just deer tags, but as you suggested, that could be limited by unit.

  13. If you get pulled for a big game elk deer combo tag can you hunt elk anywhere in montana or is it by district

  14. Mike Mallon says

    I have applied for a combo tag a number of time (yes it is by unit) and never drew an elk tag. They refund your elk portion of the tag 300 or so and issue you a deer tag. It is not easy for a non resident to draw an elk tag in Montana. if you want to hunt elk go to colorado OTC.

  15. I applied for my first elk hunt ever in Montana, got drawn, it’s a general tag and we were able to hunt any HD that was open for general season. Montana issues 17,000 non resident tags per year, only the last 2 years have they sold out. Not too difficult to hunt elk in Montana.

    • Thanks Kyle. Yes, keeping up with all the different state rules is confusing. In general, general tags in Western States are state wide. Part of what has confused me in the past is I called Colorado Parks and Wildlife and was told by the person selling OTC tags they were only good in one unit. Somebody told me that was wrong, so I called back and the next person confirmed you could hunt state wide.

      The state’s don’t make it easy to find this kind of info. They don’t have to because you have to play by their rules or forget it. The only competition is between the other few bureaucratic Western states.

      • By the way, got my first elk on my first trip ever, so I can’t complain at all. I ended up getting a 400lb cow, although I had a 6×6 in my sights at 250yds opening morning but like a moron forgot any way of telling the time so I couldn’t shoot. Got the cow the next morning. So I’d like to thank you for the info on this site as it did help in my success.
        Here’s Kyle cow elk from first elk hunt in Montana
        kyle's first elk hunt montana

        • Excellent and thanks for letting me know.
          A two day hunt on your first trip?

          I posted Kyle’s pic on his last comment…
          The note with the pic was this “This is my first elk, 400lb cow taken with one shot from a .308 at a distance of 387 yds while standing.”
          I assume the cow elk was standing, so Kyle must mean he took the shot is in the standing position.

          It looks like you are in a CRP field. Was that private (block management) or public land?

  16. Kyle, When you say any unit that is open for elk hunting, it is misleading. The units that have draw tags are very limited. If you shoot an elk in those units you will be in trouble. I would suggest contacting them to clarify. For instance the unit i hunt has 60 bull tags during the rifle season. I could have killed a 320+ bull elk easy on many days, but only if i had a tag for that unit, not a general tag.

  17. Just to clarify, the article is correct you can draw a license but that doesnt give the right to go kill an elk anywhere it is open. You must apply and draw a permit for the zone you are hunting in. You cannot just go with your non res elk license and hunt anywhere, you must draw a permit. I verified this today.

    • Hi Mike sorry for the delayed response, but I needed to verify something with MFWP…
      Just to make this clear… and I just got off the phone with Montana Wildlife Licensing Specialist…
      What you say is unclear, so I need to clarify.

      When you say true “you can draw a license but that doesn’t give the right to go kill an elk anywhere it is open.” is not true. It does give you the right to kill an elk anywhere the general season is open, but you must comply with the Hunt District’s (HDs aka units) regulations (see examples below)…

      First. The General Elk License is good an any HD in Montana that has a General Elk Season. There is an archery only season and a general season in which you can hunt with any legal weapon in Montana.

      Second. Most HDs (not all) have the same season dates, but each unit may allow different sex/age elk to be harvested so you have to check the regs for each .

      For example (looking at last year’s regs (2018) – 2019 regs come out middle of Feb… page 46 (HD 300 Lima Peaks-Nicholia, Oct 20 – Nov 25, Brow-tined Bull or Antlerless Elk & Either-sex Elk for youth only). So you could take a cow elk or brow-tined bull elk in that HD with general elk tag and a youth could take any elk.

      Another example… page 34 (HD 100 North Kootenai, Oct 20 – Nov 25, Brow-tined Bull Elk). So you could only take a mature bull elk in this HD. In order to take a cow elk, you would also have to draw a cow tag from that HD.

      Third example… page 56 (HD 400 Lower Marias River, Oct 20 – Nov 25, Either-sex Elk). So no age or sex restrictions, you could take any elk with the general season tag.

      4th example: — page 56 (HD 401 Sweet Grass Hills, Oct 20 – Nov 25, Antlerless Elk). So here, you could only take a cow or calf elk. If you wanted to hunt bull elk, you would have to have a bull elk permit for this Hunt District.

      So in one of Mike’s earlier comments:
      “I have applied for a combo tag a number of time (yes it is by unit) and never drew an elk tag. They refund your elk portion of the tag 300 or so and issue you a deer tag”

      Mike mentioned getting refunded for the elk portion of the Combo tag. This refund is something you have to request. It doesn’t happen automatically. So if you applied for a bull elk permit for a specific HD and did not draw, you would not have to pay for the elk part of the combo if you were not interested in hunting cow elk only. You could still use that tag for cow elk if you wanted to pay for it.

      So you can hunt any elk in some units, Brow-tined Bull or Antlerless Elk in some units, only Brow-tined Bull elk in some units an only antlerless elk in other units with just the General Elk License.

      If you want any other permits to go along with the general elk or combo license, you have to draw those by unit.

  18. Jacob Klee says

    First timer here, been doing a lot of research, but still kind of confused. When you apply for an out of state general elk tag do you have to list what region or HD your hunting in? And do you have too purchase a preference point with your tag now?? Everytime i think i have Montana out of state tags figured out i get more confused. I know i want to hunt any weapon general season, just not sure where yet. Thanks for any advice.

    • No you do not have to pick a Hunting District (HD) when applying for the non-resident general elk license in Montana. But check the regs for each HD you consider. As you can see in a previous comment of mine, the HD can range from any elk to mature bulls or antlerless to mature bulls only to antlerless only. So if the unit you want to hunt does not allow you to take a mature bull or the option to take a cow, you will have to apply for an additional permit for that particular unit only. In that case, there is the option to decline the general license if you do not also draw the bull or cow tag along with it.

      It all could me made more clear if Montana Wildlife realized they were competing with other state for your hunting dollars. The agent I spoke to was very helpful, but she still could not point to a specific place in the regs that explained all of this.

      Each state still acts like they have something you need and you will do the work if you want to hunt their state. In some ways I think it is good that people have to put in some effort to learn about elk hunting, but new hunters should be spending time learning more about elk an elk habitat than regulations and application processes.

      Good luck on your hunt.

      • Been told by a few people Montana is one of the more confusing states to DIY hunt because they do make it difficult to understand everything, but with my work schedule is my only option this coming season. Really appreciate your timely response, thanks for all the info you give out, can’t tell you how many hours I’ve put in just trying to figure out the rules and regs…. Looking forward to finally being able to just research elk..

        • I don’t think they make it confusing on purpose, but they are definitely not user friendly. We should expect more from a bureaucracy, but as non-residents, the only power we have is where we choose to spend our money.

          Montana has some beautiful country and some diverse elk habitats. If in Western Montana carry your bear spray and I want to hear your elk hunt stories.

          • Bkwoodshorsin says

            Great thread! I have hunted Western Montana DYI for 2 years with a Bow, and one of the those 2 years with a rifle as well, covering 3 different HD’s with a Combination General License on public land. I could have killed doe deer many times, a smaller antlered buck, Cow elk a couple of times, have seen many elk (more than 100), and many bull elk (more than 30) while in the field, and have been within 40 yards of several good 5×5’s and one 6×6 bull in 14 days of archery hunting. Since I didn’t punch my tag, due to wind changes or obstructions to the shot, many would say I was “unsuccessful.” But I don’t think that at all. I could have punched some tags but passing on an easy shot at a couple of cows for a chance at an approaching mature bull makes sense for me. The first year i went out and it took me six days to find the elk, and I saw 8 bulls the last two days, got to within 80 yards of a group of 5 bachelors that were 5×5 or better. The wind, open terrain, and fading light kept me from getting closer, I didn’t have a call, or experience calling, at the time. The following year I was on elk from the first day and every day after during archery season. With a rifle we went the second week of season and the animals were deep in their hiding places, saw some cows but they were on the move. Each time I gained intel , honed my calling skills, and spent glorious days in the outdoors seeing sparring moose, bear, antelope, martin, porcupine….in some of the best country on earth. There are plenty of elk and opportunities in MT. Can’t wait until September!

          • Yes, good comment BK… I never think of a day in the field as wasted or unsuccessful. I totally agree, nothing can replace those glorious days in the field.
            Sometimes when I tell people how many elk and other wildlife I see, I think they don’t believe me. And too many first time DIY elk hunters think they need know everything before the go. Nonsense. They need to go and learn on the job and enjoy every minute of the journey. If an elk wants to get in the back of the truck, so much the better.
            Good luck on your next hunt.

  19. Bkwoodshorsin says

    Thanks. If anything, I have greatly understated the quantity of game seen, for the very same reason.

  20. Jahuzle McBuzle says

    Just wanting to clarify some questions i had. When i search for example unit 261 on Montana FWP it says for archery season

    Sep 07 – Oct 20 Brow-tined Bull or Antlerless Elk. Archery Only Season

    Does this mean I can shoot any bull elk that the main beam that is greater than or equal to four inches long? And by this I mean I could shoot a 5×5 or 6×6 or any bull with an antler longer than 4 inches? Hopefully I make sense.

    The reason I ask is I found several units where it said spike only or cow and several where it said any bull or cow. A brow tined only means that i cannot harvest a bull with a main beam less than 4 inches, correct? Thank you

    • Hi Jahuzle McBuzle (great email name): No, you have it backwards.

      Brow-tined Bull in Montana means “Any elk having an antler or antlers with a visible point on the lower half of either main beam that is greater than or equal to four inches long“.

      You gave the definition (in Montana) of a Legal Antlered Bull “Any elk having an antler or antlers at least 4 inches long as measured from the top of the skull

      Here is Montana’s Legal Definitions of Elk

      I hope this answers your question and keeps you out of trouble. You have to be very careful. Each state may have slightly different definitions for antlered, spike and antlerless elk.

      I cover this in one of the chapters in MY DIY ELK Hunting Guide. You have to know the specific “lingo” for each state.
      Good Luck on your hunt.

  21. Jahuzle McBuzle says

    Awesome that explains it perfectly. Confirmed how I thought it was. Much appreciated. Lol, yes “pen names” are handy 🙂

  22. Vernon salzl says

    When you are drawn to receive an elk liscence when can expect to receive the tag?

  23. I so much appreciate all this great info you put on the WEB about ELK hunting! It is clear, concise, accurate and written in a way anyone can understand. There is so much great info packed into this fairly brief link. Your WEB info has helped me so much over the years with deciding where to hunt Elk. I have been taking it for granted but it just hit me (I’m a little slow) that the very least I should do is take a minute to thank you. So again Thank you!

    • Thanks Terry… Most new DIY hunters to fair chase public land hunting don’t know what they are getting into.. but what a journey.
      Good luck on you hunt… tag me on Instagram with pics when you hunt #backcountrychroniclesdotcom

  24. I will try tp get you some pics, but I’m 70 and never signed up or used instagram but I’ll try to get you some pics somehow. Hopefully some might be of actual game taken. I’ve taken 0 game in 6 DIY hunts but have lots of experience so hopefully this, my first Montana hunt (also DIY) will be the one where I take home game. I’m long past being particular so if any Elk, shy of a Calf is in range of my bow (where legal) it’s going to take a trip back to NC with me. Of course this hunt is all dependent on me drawing a tag with zero points. I’m not for sure but it appears I can buy a point when I go online to put in for my license and if so I’ll purchase one. But either way, I’ll hunt Elk somewhere this year so long as I’ll well enough.

Comments, Opinions, Questions?